ST. CLAIRSVILLE - With each passing victory, the pressure and bullseye on Union Local's back grows.
The Jets, who feature just one senior in their seven-man rotation, have met all challenges head on and successfully thus far.
That trend continued Tuesday evening inside a jam-packed and electric St. Clairsville High School where the state's top-ranked Division III squad handed the Red Devils their first home loss since 2010 and spoiled senior night with a 46-34 victory.
"I thought we played really well in the second and third quarters," Union Local head coach Ben Porter said. "This was a good basketball game with a great atmosphere and we may get to do it again."
The victory not only gave Union Local, which is 17-0, the season sweep against the Red Devils, but it also wrapped up the top seed in next week's Class 4A Wheeling Hospital OVAC Boys Basketball Championship.
"It's nice to be the top seed, but we have a lot of goals to accomplish yet," Porter said. "This time of year is when every game takes on additional meaning. It's really nice to be where we are, but we want to keep going."
Because Martins Ferry's game with Indian Creek wasn't played due to the weather, the Red Devils are expected to qualify as the fourth seed, creating a third matchups between the rivals next Tuesday in Morristown. The official pairings were set to be released this morning.
"Hopefully, we get another chance (to play Union Local)," St. Clairsville coach Kim Clifford said. "It's in the basketball God's hands as to whether or not we get that chance, but we'll make some adjustments, come out and play hard."
Along with the OVAC Tournament, the victory also locked up the Buckeye 8 title for the Jets.
"Any time you can win a (league) championship, it's exciting," Porter said. "That was one of our goals, but now we have to get focused on Bellaire on Thursday."
Before any thought could be given to the OVAC, Buckeye 8 or the Big Reds, the Jets had to deal with a hostile environment and a Red Devils team that normally plays and shoots exceptionally well on John Jenkins Court.
After the Red Devils owned an 11-6 lead after the first quarter, St. C. extended the margin to 17-10 on a bucket by freshman Michael Scarnecchia.
From there, the Jets shifted gears.
Union Local closed the half on a 10-0 run, which was fueled by sophomore point guard Kaleb McDiffitt, who scored in a myriad of ways en route to 11 points. He hit two floaters and a trey during the run in the second.
The Jets didn't stop there, but they did it more on the defensive end where their zone truly bothered St.C. The Devils scored only 17 points in the entire second half and six in the fourth.
"By playing zone, you're taking chances against St. Clairsville because if they're hitting their 3s, you could be in trouble," Porter said. "They didn't shoot well, but on a different night, it could be a different outcome. Who knows?"
In between, the Devils misfired on numerous good looks at the bucket. St. Clairsville didn't shoot well from the perimeter, but it also missed some easier chances on the interior as well.
"I really though we got good shots," Clifford said. "Our guys shot the shots that they can make, but they just didn't make them, and it's as simple as that."
While the Devils were clanging shots off the rim, the Jets made the most of their opportunities. Trenton Tipton buried a pair of treys and talented junior Gavin Porter made good on both of his attempts in the third as the Jets extended their lead to 37-28 at the final stop.
The Jets got a conventional three-point play from senior Eric Dunfee and held St. C. to just two field goals in the entire fourth.
"When you shoot as poorly as we did on your home court ... bad things are going to happen," Clifford said. "We'll chalk it up to experience and we'll move on."
Once again, the Jets were balanced in the scoring column. McDiffitt and Tipton led the way with 11 each. Porter closed with nine, while 6-7 junior pivot Colten McKivitz added seven points and 12 rebounds.
The Devils, meanwhile, were led by senior Joel Giffin, who had nine points. Scarnecchia scored seven before fouling out.
Union Local held 32-23 edge on the glass. The Jets overcame eight turnovers, which was two more than the hosts.
Both teams have plenty more action this week. St. C. visits Harrison Central this evening in a varsity only encounter at 7:30, while Union Local hosts Bellaire and John Marshall on Thursday and Friday, respectively. The meeting with the Big Reds is a varsity only game and will follow the UL girls' game against Wheeling Park.
St. Clairsville managed a split by prevailing in the reserve game.